“Problems can’t be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein
I am taking an on-camera class at The Barrow Group in NYC. The class is beautifully designed to challenge you slowly by layering-on more and more challenges week-by-week, to maximize learning and minimize personal-overwhelm and mental freak-outs in the students as they’re exploring a new medium.
Our challenge this week was to memorize a short two-person scene and incorporate a ton of props. My scene partner and I chose an interrogation scene from CSI: Miami and I brought in a first-aid kit to dress a wound on my face during the scene.
Oh… and the other challenge of the day, was that we were working on establishing consistent continuity… Which basically requires the actor to be aware of doing the same thing with the props and movement in every take, so that the editor can cut easily between takes and there’s no obvious discrepancies in your body positions and prop placement, etc.
So naturally, the more props, movement and business you have in a scene, the more challenging it is for you, as the actor, to keep track of what you did from take to take and be able to replicate it.
Oh, and did I mention, we weren’t allowed to practice with our scene partner prior to class? We had to do it all on-the-fly, just one camera rehearsal and then two recorded takes.
As we were setting up for camera rehearsal, I thought to myself, “Why did I bring in this damn first-aid kit? Couldn’t I have chosen something simpler… like a rock or something? I am totally about to fail at this big-time… in front of EVERYONE. I won't be able to remember a freaking thing.”
“Failure is art of learning, and we have to enjoy that art.” – Abbas Pachmarhiwala
But I tried to comfort myself with the idea that I was about to learn a lot from this experience. And it wasn’t going feel easy, but I was sure getting my money’s worth in learning!
Wow, did I feel like a total idiot trying to multi-task in this scene and keep track of everything?! My brain was freaking-out! And I began to feel totally afraid… I was fixating on the idea that I hadn’t memorized my lines well enough and, therefore, I desperately glued myself to my script during camera rehearsal (before we started rolling).
And when I get scared… my need to CONTROL kicks-in to try and make me feel comfy… like an old dysfunctional relationship. And during camera rehearsal I started trying to micromanage the scene for myself AND my scene partner, which I am sure wasn’t helping him in his process at ALL and made me come-off as uncaring and unprofessional. Our teacher gently pointed out my poor etiquette and suggested that we’d had enough rehearsal… let’s go for a take.
“When someone behaves poorly, it’s always because they’ve forgotten how powerful they really are.” – Mike Dooley, Tut’s Universe
I could have really helped myself in this moment by letting go of my need to control everything and thereby… actually controlling my emotions a lot better than I actually was.
But, no, letting go was not happening... I was judging myself... and freaking out inside. I was being an ID-carrying McJudgerson... esquire... the third.
“Be careful not to judge yourself for anything that seemed like a perfect idea and now is not unfolding in the way you wished. Be careful not to judge others for not delivering what they promised or seemed to be able to offer at the time… If something is not working, let it go.” – Lena Stevens, The Power Path
In the moment, I felt like it was unpreparedness that was getting in my way… not knowing my lines well enough, not knowing where these props were supposed to land and when… not knowing what my scene partner was going to do… so I could figure out how that would affect my own performance. :-p
But actually, I was prepared enough. I was plenty prepared. What was REALLY getting in the way was my need for a sense of safety in the scene… My need to understand it all and feel like I had mastered it, before I would allow it to just happen… spontaneously, naturally, imperfectly in the moment.
“Eliminate the mental need to understand. Simply accept what is happening.” – Lena Stevens, The Power Path
We did two takes. The first take was to set the continuity “blue-print” of the scene and then we tried match the second take to the first. Same movement, same prop placement… you get the idea.
I never actually forgot my lines, as I had feared. But I was still beating myself up mentally when it was all over. I felt like I had totally flubbed up the whole thing… and not just with the continuity, but, more so, with my bad behavior during camera rehearsal.
My brain was saying... “What am I doing? Who am I? This is not the kind of actor I want to be. I want to be someone that’s open to playing and going with the flow… not a stick-in-the-mud that’s soooo married to the idea of the scene in her head that she can’t see the brilliant spur-of-the-moment opportunities to react to in this moment, right NOW!”
“The less we fight reality, and love what is, the less we’ll suffer and the happier we’ll be… If I can’t change what is, I might as well love what is.” – Adam Gilbert, MyBodyTutor
So here’s the learning…
1. I needed to experience the icky feeling of behaving badly, to remind myself of WHY I want to be a fearless actor that can let go and allow. The better I can let go of my own need to control, the more available I’ll be to my scene partner and the more present I’ll be able to be in the scene… and, therefore, I will enjoy the work more as well.
2. When we watched playback… it wasn’t nearly as horrible looking as I thought it was going to be. During the scene, because I was sooooo focused on dealing with the props (and my own crazy inner-monologue) I was not acting at ALL. I was just saying the words and dealing with the freaking hydrogen peroxide. But that made the scene that much more real and engaging to watch. No acting was required on my part. The words were said and the story still got told. So what was all my mental fuss about? Nothing.
Get over yourself, Wilcox. It's not that hard. Stop trying to make it so difficult.
There are some lessons that you need to learn over-and-over-and-over again. CONTROL = YOU DON'T NEED IT. This is one of mine. Every time, though, I feel like I’m learning it in a deeper way and becoming more aware.
This is another reason I want to go to grad school… I’d love to workout some of these kinks in the safety of a classroom with some solid mentors, where we’re all there to make mistakes and take risks… rather than having the pressure of an actual paying job to up-the-stakes and the pressure of needing to get it “right.”
Most of the time, it’s the thing that may feel WRONG that actually makes a scene brilliant. That’s why I love/hate/love acting. It’s scary and thrilling and requires me to give up control, ride the wave, live in the moment and learn a ton about myself in the process.
When will I learn? Whatever is happening is what’s supposed to be happening, so don't fight it... let it be.
“The reason for all challenges is so that you can finally learn that none are bigger than you.” – Mike Dooley, Tut's Universe